By Danielle Westbrook
This year, Olympia can seize the rare opportunity to address income inequality, increase revenue, and fund higher education for our community.
The initiative, Opportunity for Olympia, would provide at least one year of community college tuition, or the equivalent towards public, in-state university tuition for all high school graduates or GED recipients in the Olympia city limits. Nearly 2.5 million dollars in revenue will be raised through a 1.5 percent tax on household income over $200,000—95 percent of which would go to funding education, not administration.
While the tax only applies to the wealthiest 3 percent of households in Olympia, it would raise millions of dollars to enable high school graduates to attend community college for free. By investing in a better-educated workforce, we will be able to attract more businesses, create good-paying jobs and ensure a legacy of opportunity for our entire community.
Opportunity for Olympia has garnered broad support in Olympia, including endorsements from Olympia City Councilmembers Clark Gilman and Jessica Bateman.
“My own story leads me to support the Opportunity for Olympia Initiative,” Clark said. “I was the first in my family to go to college. I didn’t even fill out the financial aid forms my senior year of high school because we didn’t know a thing about higher education. I completed my freshman year at Evergreen, used up all my money and had to go to work. I returned several years later to complete the degree. A program like Opportunity for Olympia could offer students in my situation the support and encouragement to go on past high school.”
Opportunity for Olympia isn’t only about equal access to higher education. It also takes a step in the right direction to address income inequality. Washington’s tax system is the most regressive in our country. In our community, the lowest income families pay nearly 17 percent of their income for state and local taxes, while those in the top one percent pay only 2.4 percent. We’re leaving millions in much needed revenue on the table, and this is our opportunity to address this issue in Olympia.
“Without progress at the state and federal level on tax reform our local governments will increasingly be presented with initiatives from citizens trying to fix an inequitable and unsustainable system,” Bateman said.
“The fact is, the state of Washington hasn’t addressed tax equity. I’ve always believed that if no one is on the dance floor, it’s my personal responsibility to get something started,” Clark added.
“With so many families struggling to get by in our community it is more important than ever to ensure every student has the opportunity to thrive and earn a post high school education. We must also take steps toward progressive taxation in order to fund vital pubic services and decrease the cost of higher education,” Bateman said.
Opportunity for Olympia is a grassroots campaign. Volunteers have been on the ground collecting signatures since March. As of this writing, 1 in 6 Olympia voters have signed the petition. Over 4,700 valid signatures will be submitted to the Olympia City Council by June 21, with the initiative appearing on the general election ballot in November.
The campaign is seeking volunteers. To learn more, visit www.opportunityforolympia.com.
Danielle, a local political consultant and campaign manager for Opportunity for Olympia, is a parent and teacher, and mentors at-risk youth. She knows first hand the life-changing potential of this important initiative.